This blog post is based on a sermon I preached in April 2024. The reading for this sermon was John 20:19-31.

Peace be with you…

If you first thought was to respond with: “and also with you”, then excellent. You have passed the Anglican test. We know this phrase well as part of our liturgy. Of making peace with one another ahead of taking communion for example.

But it was also the first words that Jesus spoke in our reading, when he appeared to his disciples in a locked room, after his resurrection.

For those of you who have attended church for many years, you are probably quite familiar with the stories that we encounter in the weeks after Easter. The story of doubting Thomas that we heard today. The Road to Emmaus, breakfast on the beach, the great commission, and then we head towards ascension and Pentecost. It’s a familiar pattern with stories you may have heard many times. So today, instead of focusing just on Thomas and his doubts, I wanted to also look at the other story in this passage. Of Jesus’ first appearance to the other disciples, because I think there is plenty to unpack here as well.

Jesus appears to his disciples

To set the scene, the disciples are gathered together. Afraid, uncertain what is happening. Likely still mourning their friend but confused by what they have heard about his body being gone. Maybe they feared they would be blamed. Maybe they were worried about how the authorities would respond. And then Jesus appears.

And I love the way that John describes this. No fluff, no emotion. Just stating the facts as if this is a perfectly normal and reasonable thing to have happened. Perhaps he was just used to God doing crazy things by this point. Jesus appears amongst them, not through the locked door, just suddenly amongst them.

And the first words he says: Peace be with you. Now, if this happened today and Jesus appeared in an Anglican, church of England gathering – I think he probably would get a smattering of confused ‘and also with you’s before people even realised what was going on. But, actually – this is a common Hebrew greeting, that is still used in parts of the Middle East today. This would perhaps be more similar to him appearing in the room and saying ‘hello there, how are you all?’ – which to me, still seems far too calm.

Think about how you would feel if you were those disciples.
– would you be confused, not quite sure if you were dreaming?
– or would you feel scared, surely this must be a ghost?
– would you be excited, that this must be something amazing happening?
– or would you be trying to come up with a logical explanation?

I’m sure all these emotions and more were going on in that room, and in that sense – perhaps his first words were actually very much what was needed: peace be with you.

Don’t be afraid, don’t panic, I am with you.

Peace be with you

Because doesn’t that phrase, peace be with you, just sum up exactly what Jesus has done in his time on earth? Wasn’t peace exactly what he came to earth to bring? Not just earthly peace as we might imagine it, but an eternal, supernatural peace. A freedom from the spiritual battles that were raging, and victory over death.

Throughout his time on Earth, Jesus promised that peace would be his gift.

In John 14:27, he says:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

And in John 16:33 he says:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

I don’t know what the disciples were expecting from this peace that Jesus promised, perhaps a world free from war and battle and persecution. But we know from the stories of what happened to many of Jesus’ followers after this, and from looking at the world around us today – that that didn’t happen.

The peace of Jesus

And Jesus did even warn them of that: I do not give [peace] to you as the world gives. In this world, you will have trouble. Whilst we are called to do all we can to live in peace, to work for peace, and to pray for peace – in this world, the peace that the world can give us is conditional. It is temporary. It is often artificial. We live in a world full of fallen individuals. A world where evil and sin still exist. Where people so often use their free will to hurt those around them.

But, when Jesus appeared in that room. When he stood amongst them three days after being killed upon the cross, he bought a different kind of peace.

A kind of peace that is eternal, that lasts far beyond our lives on this earth. A kind of peace that knows no bounds – so that even if we are in the darkest of places, facing the worst kinds of evil – that peace can still be with us. The kind of peace that cannot be destroyed by the actions of man.

Because the fact that Jesus was stood amongst them, meant that death had no power. As we sing, it had lost its sting. It meant that those disciples, and us today, have security and have peace, no matter what the world throws our way.

The disciples’ response

So, if they didn’t join together in a chorus of: and also with you; how did the disciples respond to Jesus appearing amongst them? In our reading, in verse 20, after Jesus had shown them his wounds, it said:

the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

And this reflects exactly what Jesus had promised. Back in John 16, he said:

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

You will rejoice and no one will take your joy. And I think this is also a promise that is extended to us today. We will see Jesus again, and no one will take away our joy.

Believing without seeing

But, of course, unlike the disciples – we have not yet seen Jesus stood before us for ourselves. We see the example of Thomas – the disciple who was not there when Jesus first appeared, and didn’t believe until he could see and touch Jesus for himself. And maybe sometimes we feel that way too, that everything would be so much easier to believe if we could just touch and see.

But Jesus ends with these words to Thomas, that I hope do encourage us:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Blessed are we, if we believe even though we have not seen. And of course we’re not left with nothing. Pentecost comes quickly on the heels of Easter – the sending of the Holy Spirit, our helper and guide promised and sent from God.

The purpose of the gospels

But the final part of our reading also highlights what we have. It’s a little sum up of the purpose of John’s gospel, and it said: Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

These scriptures were written – especially these four gospels, the stories of Jesus’ time here on Earth – so that we may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through believing we may have life. Because of Jesus, because of all that he did in his time on Earth, and in particular what he did over the course of these three days – from the cross, to standing amongst the disciples. Because of him, we can have life, we can have joy, we can have peace.

So, as I say again peace be with you – I pray that we will know God’s peace amongst us as we believe in him and know the joy of his resurrection.

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